Monday, September 29, 2014
Nebraskan Student Union Ponderosa Room
2014 marks the 50th Anniversary of the World Affairs Conference in Kearney. Since 1964, Kearney State College, now the University of Nebraska at Kearney, has sponsored an international conference to discuss issues of global importance. In 1988 the name of the conference was changed to honor Professor James E. Smith. We recognize today, as did the Conference’s founders, how critical discussion and interaction with people from diverse cultures is for a complete education. Many issues that shape the quality of our lives have an international dimension. Global economic interdependence, the development of appropriate environmental strategies, the resolution of regional conflicts, and the enhancement of human rights all require a global perspective.
This year, however, in commemorating the golden jubilee of the Conference, we have chosen to focus not on how the global community affects us and our world but how we, as individuals and communities, can influence and improve upon the world. As Margaret Mead famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” For this one-day conference, we have sought out those “thoughtful and committed citizens” from Nebraska and beyond who have indeed changed the world in ways that might seem impossible. Therefore, we bring to you among others: a church group from Callaway whose members began with $1,500 seed money which has grown enough to build wells, schools and a medical clinic in Nigeria; local doctors whose commitment to serve has saved lives and provided care throughout the developing world; a Lincoln organization that provides homes for street children and intercepts victims of trafficking in Asia; and an international organization that uses music to bridge divides and help heal the wounds of war. All of these success stories began with the courage and determination of one or a few individuals who refused to believe that “nothing could be done” and insisted instead that they could make a difference. Their work is an inspiration to us all.
Our keynote address speaks to this theme. Provided by Tom Clynes, contributing editor and photographer at National Geographic and Popular Science, it is entitled, Can One Person Really Change the World? Tom is a Knight Wallace Journalism Fellow and an International Reporting Project Fellow, and his magazine stories often appear in Houghton-Mifflin’s Best American Magazine Writing anthologies. Tom is the author of the book Wild Planet and he’s currently working on another book, The Boy Who Played With Fusion, to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Traveling the world to discover and tell extraordinary stores is Tom's passion. He spends much of his time in the field, reporting on subjects such as Ebola outbreaks and eco-mercenaries in Africa, or climate science-deniers in Washington, or arsenic-loving microbes in alpine lakes. He’ll be taking us along with him on some of his most memorable assignments.
As always, we hope that the information provided at this conference will remind UNK faculty, students, and the Kearney community of our connections to the broader global community and in this case, of our individual abilities to influence and change it for the better. It is our hope also that members of the audience will be sufficiently inspired by what they hear at the conference to maintain a lifelong interest in international affairs.